Vanuatu is a Pacific island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The Vanuatu archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is some 1,090 miles (1,750 km) east of northern Australia, 340 miles (540 km) northeast of New Caledonia, east of New Guinea, southeast of the Solomon Islands, and west of Fiji. Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian people.
The first Europeans to visit Vanuatu were a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese navigator Fernandes de Queirós, who arrived on the largest island in 1606. As the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies had been unified under the king of Spain in 1580. Queirós claimed the archipelago for Spain, as part of the colonial Spanish East Indies, and named it La Austrialia del Espíritu Santo. In the 1880s, France and the United Kingdom claimed parts of the archipelago, and in 1906 they agreed on a framework for jointly managing the archipelago as the New Hebrides. An independence movement arose in the 1970s, and the Republic of Vanuatu was founded in 1980.
Vanuatu is a Y-shaped archipelago consisting of about 82 relatively small, geologically newer islands of volcanic origin (65 of them inhabited), with about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) between the most northern and southern islands. Two of these islands are also claimed and controlled by France as part of the French collectivity of New Caledonia. The country lies between latitudes 13°S and 21°S and longitudes 166°E and 171°E.
There are several active volcanoes in Vanuatu, including Lopevi, Mount Yasur and several underwater volcanoes. Volcanic activity is common, with an ever-present danger of a major eruption.
The population of Vanuatu is predominantly rural, but Port Vila and Luganville have populations in the tens of thousands. The inhabitants of Vanuatu are called Ni-Vanuatu in English. The Ni-Vanuatu are primarily (98.5%) of Melanesian descent, with the remainder made up of a mix of Europeans, Asians and other Pacific islanders. Three islands were historically colonized by Polynesians.